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South King County sees rise in Covid-19 cases as flu season approaches

caption: King County Covid-19 testing website
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King County Covid-19 testing website
Courtesy of King County

An update on where the Covid-19 pandemic might be headed in our region as the days get shorter and flu season heats up, with KUOW’s Anna Boiko-Weyrauch.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Let's start with the big picture here in King County. What's happening with the virus recently?

We're seeing cases rising. At the same time, more people are getting tested. When it was really smoky out, people weren't showing up to get tests, but that has rebounded since.

In fact, we saw the most people get tested in King County on any given day recently. Last Thursday, over 9,000 people got tested, according to preliminary data.

There is a troubling indicator in that data. Of all the people getting tested, the proportion of those people who test positive, that's called the percent positivity, that number is going up. Proportionately, it appears more people overall are starting to test positive. It's an indication that the virus is starting to spread more.

We've also been seeing a divide show up in the case numbers in North King County and in South King County. Tell us what's happening there.

First, putting aside the outbreak on Greek Row for a minute, the highest rates of positive Covid cases are in South King County, from Beacon Hill, south through SeaTac and Tukwila, Kent, Auburn and Federal Way.

For example, in the past few weeks in Ballard, 30 people tested positive. Meanwhile, down in Auburn, over 130 people tested positive. Yet, more people actually went and got a Covid test in Ballard than in Auburn.

I was talking to Dr. Leo Morales about this. He's with the Latino Center for Health at the University of Washington. He says this is the pattern:

“Resources are flowing to more affluent communities that historically are better served and are more likely to participate in health care initiatives and access to care. Covid-19 is concentrating in lower-income, lower-resource communities. So, you see really high rates.”

There are a few new testing centers that are opening up in South King County soon.

That's right. Last week, a new testing center opened in Tukwila , and tomorrow a new one is opening in Federal Way. But the fact that South King County has really high rates is not a new thing. That's been going on since spring. The test sites have been taking a long time to get there.

State and local health officials have expressed their concern that we're going to see more cases this fall, as people spend time indoors, where the coronavirus spreads more easily. Flu is also usually an issue at this time of year. How does that complicate things?

Interestingly, the same things that stop the spread of the coronavirus also stop the spread of the flu. As we had the stay home order and social distancing this year, this past flu season, less than half as many people died from flu in Washington state compared to previous years.

Unfortunately, thousands have died from Covid-19 at the same time. Health officials are looking at the flu season in the southern hemisphere, where winter has come and gone. Australia saw far, far fewer influenza cases than usual. Then again, it could be people are just not showing up to the doctor as usual.

In any event, health officials here are certain that flu will still circulate at the same time as the coronavirus in some areas. They're emphasizing to get vaccinated against the flu.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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